Getting Ready for the Holiday Shopping Season

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According to the media, this year's holiday season is shaping up to be a hot digital one. Black Friday, a website that has gained a reputation for providing all the news consumers need to plan their bargain shopping, recently releases its predictions for the 2015 Black Friday season:

  • Total Black Friday sales will slip 3.3% to $8.8 billion.
  • Total Thanksgiving Day sales will rise 18.8% to $3.8 billion.
  • Combined online-only sales for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday will increase 33.3% to $3.5 billion.
  • The top three online destinations will be Amazon, eBay and
  • The average online order for Thanksgiving and Black Friday will be around $130.
  • Even though Black Friday is November 27th it will unofficially begin on November 1st when Amazon launches a month-long push with it's new payment, "Pay With Amazon," buttons for mobile.
  • The first national chain to open its doors for the four-day Black Friday weekend will be Kmart at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
  • The total overall average Black Friday discount will be 39.6%.
  • Walmart will win the day at retail but not because it will have the deepest discounts. Customers will pick the retailer for its one-hour in-stock guarantee, price matching, the number of deals on in-demand items, online exclusives and the best overall shopping experience.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) also noted some important findings from a recent consumer survey for the coming holiday shopping season:

  • Average spending per person is up slightly to $805.65 from last year’s $802.45.
  • Gift expenses for family members is also on the rise to $462.95 from last year’s $458.75.
  • 8% of shoppers will buy themselves something while doing their holiday shopping and will spend an average of $131.59 versus $126.37 last year.
  • 46% of those surveyed said they will browse and buy online versus 44% last year.
  • 4% will use their smartphones to buy holiday gifts this year, which is the highest since the NRF started asking this question in 2011.
  • 7% of consumers noted that free shipping and shipping promotions, including buy online and pick up in store, is an important factor in their decision to shop and buy.

With these predictions in mind, the time is now, as an e-commerce retailer, to prepare for the last eight weeks of the holiday shopping season. The more you plan for, the greater your sales during Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday as well as potentially winning new customers. Here are some tips for getting ready:

Give your customers and prospects gift guides early. 

If you are now just thinking about submitting gift guide ideas to the media, you are a little late. Typically, media outlets want that information in the middle of summer. However, you can make a note for next year and then focus on creating your own gift guides with content that you develop around the key products you plan to sell. This content can then be added as a landing page to your website, a blog post, and social media posts. When you provide these early, you can win those early bird shoppers. As the NRF noted, “For the 14th year in a row, NRF’s holiday spending survey found that approximately 40 percent of holiday shoppers say they begin their holiday shopping before Halloween. Another 41.5 percent say they begin their holiday shopping in November.”

Decide on sales and promotions in advance, including campaigns, dates, and theme. 

The NRF also found that nearly three-quarters of holiday shoppers are focused on sales and discount merchandise to get the most bang for their holiday dollars. To take advantage of this primary factor for buying, map out the type of sales you want to offer at various points in the next eight weeks. You may want to do a kickoff promotion followed by sales for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday as well as one right before shopping season ends to appeal to last-minute shoppers. Shopify offers numerous apps that help you plan and implement sales and promotions related to a certain theme and time period.

Test your website to ensure it doesn’t shut down when traffic surges. 

The last thing you want is your website to crash because it can’t handle the traffic you’ve been working so hard to get for the holidays. Use a tool, which allows you to test capacity and determine how you can fix your website to take on additional traffic without slowing or shutting down. You can also get feedback from users from tools. Consult with your Web hosting company, such as Hostt, on any potential solutions they have that provides a way to scale up to meet the new traffic levels.

Review your plans with suppliers so they are on the same page with inventory and strategy for the holiday season. 

Like your website, you also need to know that your suppliers can handle the intense demand that spikes during holiday season. Discuss how suppliers will ensure that you can fill every order on those products targeted by consumers and the products you want to feature. Working with a solution that automates the supply chain like Technologies enables you and your suppliers to always know inventory levels and be able to gauge the demand for your items and to maintain a steady flow of products throughout the holiday season.

Find ways to re-connect with customers that abandoned their carts. 

According to 2014 from Barilliance, the average shopping cart abandonment over the Thanksgiving weekend last year was 65% while mobile users abandoned their shopping cart at a rate of 79% during the same time period. You don’t want this to happen to you, so figure out ways to ensure your customers stick around or quickly return to your site. For example, you can set up an email that goes to everyone that abandoned their cart or use Google Remarketing to remind them of what you have to offer.

Create a specific plan for mobile shoppers.

 Internet Retailer noted statistics from IBM and Custora that illustrated the importance of marketing directly to mobile users who will shop during Black Friday from their phones. Since many retailers are offering special incentives, you will need to consider how you can tempt these shoppers who are often impulse buying during the holidays when they receive push notifications and special promotions linked to local-based advertising - now possible thanks to the GPS location on these phones. Consider creating mobile ads for the holidays as well as providing an app that encourages these shoppers to buy from you.

Identify other channels where you can share your holiday products and featured items. 

Beyond traditional media, social media and sites like Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest are excellent places for retailers to share products and provide helpful advice on planning for the holidays, including for events and gift-giving ideas. For example, if you have products that you can show visually as part of a holiday party or as part of home decor, you can connect with your audience and show ways they can use your products, which suggests to them why they should buy those items. This is where you may want to consider investing in good photographs or other visuals of your products to upload on these sites, including social media channels where they can be easily shared with others.

Offer loyal customers special incentives. 

Use a tool like Constant Contact to connect with your existing customers and provide email coupons and exclusive deals for being loyal to your brand. These special deals can provide a deeper discount or some other incentive to shop with you over the holiday season that they can’t get anywhere else. You can also use this tactic as an incentive to win new customers by getting them to sign up, buy, and then receive their own exclusive deal. Other platforms like Tibco offer a way to provide this loyalty experience.

Scope out the competition. 

While you don’t want to get caught up in a price battle because you and your competition may lose with this strategy, you do want to keep an eye on what others are doing. Being aware of the whole picture of your competition strategy can help you with tweaking any campaigns you are offering. You don’t want to copy the competition because that will continually put you behind them. Instead, focus on how you can differentiate what you are doing over the holidays. You may want to offer a more personalized experience or 24/7 human contact for customers who have questions while shopping rather than automated responses.

Develop backup plans to address shifting consumer demand. 

The unexpected happens and that little surprise will always occur at the worst times possible. Your website could crash or your supplier lets you down on product availability and timely shipping. While you can’t prepare for everything, you can think of some contingency plans, including forming multiple supplier relationships and putting your developer on round-the-clock notice for assistance. Think of the worst possible situations and scenarios and have an action plan ready.

All systems are go for a busy and lucrative holiday shopping season!

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